A pedestrian bridge crosses a stream at Sunken Meadow State Park in New York.

Hiking Sunken Meadow State Park

Follow tidal creeks and climb coastal bluffs with the go-to, year-round hiking option at this ever-scenic state park.

Don’t let the name get you down. There’s plenty of uplifting terrain to explore at Sunken Meadow State Park, regardless of season and whether you’re crossing over tidal creeks swaying with cordgrass, walking along beaches, or climbing up bluffs that open views out across Long Island Sound. And if you want to experience the diverse landscape that is the north shore of Long Island, a few miles of accessible coastline here put all its best features—forests, bays, sprawling beaches, glacier-carved bluffs—on full display with the 3-mile loop detailed below.

But about that other landscape feature, for which the park is named: The sunken meadow is a picturesque salt marsh that divides the 1,287-acre green space (often also referred to as Governor Alfred E. Smith State Park). As you head to the park’s eastern end, the tidal Sunken Meadow Creek cuts a small sand peninsula off the mainland. During summer, the green cordgrass and cattails of the marsh ripple in the breeze. In the winter months they glow in a golden, hibernated state. At low tide, shorelines expose mussel beds and fiddler-crab dens, while baitfish scatter from clear pools.

Across the tidal creek, the mainland of Long Island rises gradually up to the bluffs, reaching into the woodlands to form the park’s southern boundary. As a tributary, Sunken Meadow Creek is just one of the Nissequogue River’s salty marsh environs that are the ancestral homeland of the Nissaquogue people. Before their arrival, the Laurentide Ice Sheet receded over 20,000 years ago, depositing sediment on this north shore of the island, where the waters of the Long Island Sound now lap at the abrupt foot of the 70-foot bluffs that mark the northwest end of the park.

Recommended Route

Head to the southeast corner of the Field 3 lot for the trailhead adjacent to the kayak launch (just before a footpath over Sunken Meadow Creek). Note the dam built from loose rock below; it constricts the flow to create a swift, albeit minor rapid here when the tide ebbs out. Cross the bridge, make a right and head west, following the shoreline of Sunken Meadow Creek. In less than 0.5 miles, you’ll join the Long Island Greenbelt Trail (beginning at the park, it mixes singletrack, multi-use pathways and residential streets to cover 31 miles to the southern shore of Long Island at Heckscher State Park on the Great South Bay).

Take a left on the Greenbelt Trail and head east, climbing 100 feet up the bluffs. As the trail traverses the ridge, it opens to some of the north shore’s finest views. In a mile, you’ll reach an intersection for the parking area at Kings Park Bluff. (If you don’t want to ascend the bluffs, you can always comb the shore of Sunken Meadow Creek to ultimately reach the same point at Kings Park Bluff.)

Before entering the parking area, turn south (away from the greenbelt), and take the unnamed trail. In 0.25 miles, near another connecting path to a small parking area, the trail turns west, and climbs the park’s ridge through the forest. In less than 0.5 miles you’ll pass by the eerie, seemingly forgotten, 19th-century tombstones of St. Johnland Cemetery, which also means you’re cresting the ridge around 164 feet above sea level.

When the trail starts descending, it’s about a half-mile farther west to reach the Sunken Meadows Parking Field 4. At the northeast corner of the parking area, you’ll connect back with the Greenbelt Trail. Head east to another immediate footbridge over Sunken Meadow Creek that leads you back to Field 3. After your hike, grab a towel and head for the beach.

White wooden lifeguard stand and rowboat on the beach at Sunken Meadow State Park, New York

Added Bonus

Sunken Meadow offers more than quality trails, with great access for kayaks and standup paddleboards. From Parking Field 3, you can launch on either Sunken Meadow Creek (well below the rock constriction mentioned earlier) or directly on the beach of Long Island Sound. To access the creek, use the launch site at the southeast corner of the lot (no fees required beyond the daily vehicle parking fee).

Getting There

Head to northwestern Suffolk County via Interstate 495 toward the Sagtikos Parkway. Take Exit 53 for the Sagtikos Parkway northbound. Sagtikos north becomes the Sunken Meadow Parkway. Continue north for approximately 6 miles to the toll booth at the park entrance. (Past the booth, continue another mile, over Sunken Meadow Creek, then make a right on Naples Ave., to Field 3.) There is an $8-10 vehicle use fee at the park on weekdays from the end of May until mid-September, and on weekends from April to November. Otherwise the park is open every day year-round, sunrise to sunset.

The Sunken Meadow trails are accessible year-round, though be mindful of daily weather conditions—especially in winter months when sub-freezing temperatures can lead to ice. Thawing or heavy precipitation can also mean muddy trails best avoided to prevent damage.

Refresh & Refuel

Linda’s Riverside Pizzeria & Cafe in Kings Park is a local favorite, and that says a lot in a region where you can toss a piece of driftwood and hit the front counter of a half-dozen pizza parlors. Yes, the pies are delicious. Grab yours and claim an outdoor table to soak in the stunning views of the Nissequogue River.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.